Antone Exum is a first or second round talent but injuries dropped him into the final day of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Vikings snagged Exum with the 182nd overall selection then turned around and picked up Maine corner Kendall James two picks later.
You might think that's a bad sign for Exum, but the Vikings need all the help they can get in the secondary, and they addressed the issue in a big way in the sixth round.
Unlike the reaction to the Logan Thomas selection, the talk was fairly positive and there's a general feeling that Minnesota may have gotten a steal here.
ESPN's Bill Polian mentioned that NFL folks love to make comparisons between college kids and guys already in the league and he pointed out the similarities to Hokie alumnus and Super Bowl Champion safety Kam Chancellor. Of course that begs the question, is Antone a corner or a safety?
Where Does Antone Fit In?
The Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL last season in opponent passing yards giving up 287.2 YPG through the air. Clearly, there was a massive need for help in the defensive backfield.
Most likely, Kendall James was drafted to help at corner while Exum will be expected to move back to safety where he played early in his career at Tech. Minnesota already has hard-hitting free safety Harrison Smith and when paired with Exum, wide receivers will have to think twice on crossing patterns.
This is, as Bill Polian somewhat alluded to, the Seahawks recipe for success on defense. The NFL has become a passing league and you have to be able to defend against an aerial attack. It helps when your defensive backs are big and physical.
Exum's natural fit is safety, though he played well during his junior season at corner. He likes to hit guys and he has good ball skills, but he proved to be a little too stiff compared to the top corners in the game. Look at Kendall Fuller's hips and then watch Exum and you'll see what I mean.
Still, he's a safety that can cover and he's a pretty good tackler who can help in support against the run.
How Are The Vikings Shaping Up?
The Vikings weren't a very good team last season finishing 5-10-1 (who ties anymore?) and in last place in the NFC North. Perennial All-Pro selection Jared Allen moved across the division to he Bears, but Adrian Peterson still wears purple and the Vikings are having a very good draft.
They added UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr—a player Hokie fans are far too familiar with—with the 9th overall pick and got a potential franchise quarterback with Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater at pick 32. Minnesota added disruptive defensive end Scott Crichton from Oregon State and project running back Jerick McKinnon in round 3 then brought in enormous Stanford guard David Yankey in round 5.
It's a well-rounded talent infusion that definitely improves the defense. Linebacker Chad Greenway is still around and pairing him with Anthony Barr makes the second level of the Viking defense much better. I don't love the McKinnon selection, but every other pick makes lots of sense for this team. They probably won't challenge for the playoffs next season, but they should be much improved.
The Immediate Future
Exum still has to prove he's healthy after his return from a torn ACL was derailed last season by an ankle injury, but if he can get back to near full strength it's hard to imagine a scenario where Exum doesn't start at safety for the Vikings. He provides an immediate upgrade and will be a terrific teammate.